The nation’s first nature trail specifically designed to address the sensory needs of those with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities has opened at Letchworth State Park in Livingston and Wyoming counties. Supported by more than $3.3 million in private fundraising, the new Autism Nature Trail is a one-mile hiking loop that includes eight marked sensory stations, each designed to address a different sensory experience in a safe and supportive environment.
“New York state is leading the nation in creating this public trail purposefully designed to bring the benefits of the outdoors to those on the autism disorder spectrum and their families,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “State parks should be accessible to everyone, and this is a welcoming and inclusive place for an underserved community.”
Activities along the Autism Nature Trail support and encourage sensory perception and integration, while also providing fun activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. The stations engage each visitor’s senses, using nature and natural materials as tools for skill-building. The trail is set up to allow for safe social distancing and planned interaction, officials said.
The trail includes Sunshine Slope, a gentle maze in an opening that includes a viewing platform, three cuddle swings and an “Alone Zone;” Meadow Run and Climb, a place with paths to run, jump and balance along serpentine berms and an obstacle course; Playful Path, a place of twisting paths with different surfaces including coarse gravel, log rounds, and sand; and more.
The ADA-compliant trail was designed with input from Temple Grandin, a cattle industry expert who was diagnosed with autism in 1950 at the age of two and is now one of the world’s most well-known advocates for the autistic community. The Autism Nature Trail is located near the park’s Humphrey Nature Center and offers parking, restrooms and Wi-Fi.
Fundraising for the trail is being managed on behalf of State Parks by the Natural Heritage Trust. The trust is a not-for-profit charitable corporation that receives and administers gifts, grants and contributions to support public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes. Fundraising will continue to support visitor programming for the Autism Nature Trail. More than 650 donations have been made to the project, reflecting more than 430 individual donors, 50 corporate donors, 25 community groups and 15 foundations.
Support and programming for the trail comes from the nearby Perry Central School District in Wyoming County and Rochester’s Camp Puzzle Peace, an Adirondack summer camp for families living with developmental disabilities.
“The eyes of the world are on this project. Everything we are doing has never been done before. This project represents what is possible when individuals, groups, and municipalities engage with one another to advance a cause,” said Perry School District Superintendent Daryl McLaughlin. “The Autism Nature Trail will be a powerful instructional space where cutting-edge learning and teaching will occur for all individuals. This project also will be a paradigm shift for economic development.”
[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer